SARCASM ALLEY














   Steve was very successful at being successful.  And today was his
most successful yet.  In Office World, there was much smiling and
back slapping as Steve received his promotion for being promotable.  
At 27, he was the youngest vice-president in the history of the most
conservative bank.  This, at long last, was the day for which Steve
had worked so long and hard.  Bliss was coming his way!

   Deep, deep in space the swirling galaxy came into view.  Passing
beyond the outer stars, around the yellow sun, heading towards the
spinning blue orb, down through the clouds and the smog, past the
towering buildings and through the large, plate glass window could be
seen four modern day Knights of the Roundtable.  Wearing suits now of
fine cloth and silk, they held a fete for their conquering hero of
Steve.  Greedily, they siezed upon their plunder as the waiter
stepped away.
   "I swear to God," angrily chewed Gordon, "some people are born to
die without a brain in their head!"  Gordon's rants were common.  "I
just don't know how to get through to that kid brother of mine.  I
suppose he plans on eating his paints to survive!"
   "He turned down the graphics designer job?" asked the rather
rotund Joe.
   "Yes.  He says he wants to draw what he wants."
   "Fool!  Just what the world needs: another bum!" assumed Joe.
   "Ha!" scoffed Brian, who secretly harbored dreams, "Let him do
what he wants.  You don't know what's best for him."
   "The hell I don't!" stormed Gordon, showing the food in his mouth.
"Life is a war!  The battle for money is a battle of life and death.
It doesn't matter if you like it or not, you still have to deal with
it!"
   Joe resisted eating a moment to intercede.  "I think I see the
problem here," he sardonically eyed Brian.  "It seems we have a
liberal among us gentleman.  I thought all you people were dead by
now."
   "Why is it so wrong to suggest he should do what he wants.  How do
expect him to find his way by following you?"
   "Because I'm being responsible!  I'm the one he's asking for
money, not you.  He has to learn responsibilty too."
   "Finding the right road for him is being responsible.  Money is
just something that gets in the way.  It's ruining the world!"
   "Good God!" choked Joe.  "He really is a liberal!"
   Gordon's eyes sought a higher authority.  "Steve!  Talk some sense
into this boy!  He thinks the whole world is wrong!"
   There was a perceptible pause in activity as Steve wiped his mouth
to speak.
   With his face still looking down at his plate, "Greed-" Steve
gravely spoke, then, looking up with a sly smile, "-is good."
   Steve had put it all into perspective - forget about saving the
world, try saving yourself first instead.
   "Well put!" remarked Richard.
   "A man of insight!" hailed Joe.
   "Aw, Steve!" complained Brian, but who nonetheless couldn't help
himself from smiling.
   Steve had always lived on a different plane from the others,
seeing things with a clearer eye that would cut through any doubt.
But what no one knew was the price he was paying...

   A man who called himself a superior showed Steve his new office.
   "Well, my boy, how do you like it?" beamed the Superior One.
   Steve stared in delight at the gorgeous bribery: expensive
everything and a priceless skyscraper view - he was moving in with the
big boys.
   "I like it!  I like it!" said the satisfied customer.
   "Well, go on.  Try it out."
   Steve went to absorb himself in a fine leather chair.  He crinkled
as he spoke.
   "I think I can live with this," he said grinningly.
   "Good, good.  You've earned it."  Steve, who had earned his stripes
through the widowing of many houses, was being welcomed as a new
member to the club.  The Superior One's voice turned fatherly.
"There's no telling how far you can go, son.  You have a knack and a
ruthless instinct that can carry you right to the top.  I'm glad
you're on our side."
   Steve soaked in the compliments he knew to be true.  "With you all
the way."
   "You know what makes you different from all the others, Steve my
boy.  It's your imagination.  You see things others would never
think of!  We can use such imagination around here - it gives us an
edge."
   Steve was a beloved soul.  "That's great!"
   The Superior gave a squeeze on the shoulder.  "This company is
yours for the taking."  He smiled and departed from the room.
   But as Steve watched him depart, a Disturbing Thought entered his
head.  Suddenly the man he watched was no longer the elegantly-suited,
distinguished gent he had just seen.  But rather a pudgy grey-haired
walrus who waddled as he walked.
   He violently shook the vision from of his mind.
   Steve put his feet up on the desk and relaxed in the personal
domain that was his office.  "I finally did it," he mused.  "Now I can
be totally happy."  But even as he began to relax, his "enemy"
returned: nagging, gnawing dark clouds that brooded his success.
For the life of him, he could see no reason why they should exist!
Quickly, he swiveled his chair to the window.  He gazed upon the
fellow towers of glass and steel glistening in the morning sun.
   "Now that's a view," he said convincingly.  Confidently, he turned
back to his desk and hit the intercom button.
   "Miss Feelers, could you get my wife on the phone?"
   "Right away, sir," obeyed the box.
   Thoughts of Miss Feelers floated through Steve's pants.  He
remembered her tight dress and high heels from their morning
introduction.  Steve was a leg man.  And the healthy legs of Miss
Feelers' were an added asset to the office.
   "Uh, Miss Feelers," said Steve, pressing hard on the button. 
"Please feel free to call me Steve."
   "I'd like to, sir, but it's against company policy."
   "Oh, right.  Sorry."
   "Your wife is on line one."
   Steve collected himself and picked up the phone.
   "Hi, honey!  Guess what!  You're talking to a new vice-president
of the First Conglomerate Bank!"
   "That's wonderful!" said the ever-enthusiastic Debby.  "I just knew
you would always be the best!"
   "Yeah," quickly agreed Steve, who was then visited by another
Disturbing Thought.  Steve in all his glory was plastered on the front
of a magazine with the words, "THIS MAN IS A FRAUD!"  He bit his lip
and continued.  "And you should check out the new layout I've got.
I've got a couch, and a big, huge, desk and a view to kill for.  Oh,
and my own secretary to boot."
   "I'm sure she's gorgeous," said Debby in mock jealously.
   "Just some old hag.  Hell, I think she drives a Model T."
   "Sure, I bet she does."
   "What?  You don't believe me?" said Steve sounding offended.
   "I was just giving you a hard time," acquiesced the dutifully
gullible Debby.  "I believe you."
   "Why don't you see if you can get off work early so we can go out
and celebrate."
   "Okay.  I'll call you back and let you know."
   "Great.  I'll talk to you then.  Bye, honey."
   "Bye, sweetheart.  I am so proud of you."
   Steve hung up the phone, shaking his head at his wife. "Cheerleader
to the end."
   He leaned back in his chair to picture the night ahead.  New
vice-president.  Gorgeous babe on my arm.  I'll have them sucking at
my kneecaps!  His smirk appeared on his face.  He was running the
scenario through again when a knock came on the door and Jon stuck in
his head, carrying the inter-office mail.
   "Well, if it isn't the wonderkid, sitting amidst his new palatial
office."  Steve ate it up.  Jon crossed the room holding a mock
microphone in front of him.  "Tell us, Scarface, now that the world
is yours, what is the secret to your success?"
   "Simple," answered Steve, clasping his hands behind his head,
"'Don't fuck around' - it's all black and white."
   "Dandy advice indeed!  And how do you respond to your critics who
say you are nothing but a ruthless prick with the sensitivity of a
Bavarian Beet Pig?"
   "Ah, the Jealous Little People!  I simply say, 'Look at where I am
and look at where you are.'"
   Joe dropped the reporter stance.  "Oh, did you hear what Gordon
did?"
   "Something that made us money I'm sure."
   "Some guy missed a car payment like, six months ago, but had been
making all the others ever since."
   "Had been?"
   "Yes, good ol' Gordon had it repo'd yesterday!  Let him make
payments all that time, then zap! no more car."
   "Well, I'm sure he had good reason."
   "He has good reason to be struck by lightning," remarked Jon
sourly.  He picked up his mail to resume his rounds and also resumed
his good cheer towards Steve.
   "Well, I suppose you'll be too good to eat with us common folk
now," he gently grinned.
   "Oh, I think I could manage to slum with the peasants every once
in a while," lied Steve.  The box on his desk buzzed.  "Yes, Miss
Feelers."
   "Mr. Jerrel on line two."
   "Thank you."  Steve gave a conspiratorial wink to Jon.  "I could
lick her legs until my tongue falls off."
   Joe held out a congratulatory hand.  "All the best, man."
   "Thanks."  The two shook hands and Jon departed.  Steve liked Jon -
he was always a breath of fresh air - but now that Steve was a member
of the "club", Jon just seemed too much...the peasant.  He brushed the
thought aside and assumed the professional mode he had so learned to
love.
   "Yes, Mr. Jerrel, I have found the perfect loophole for converting
your apartments."

   Steve closed his briefcase to leave for the day.  He locked the
office door behind him and walked down the cool corrider to the
elevator.  He had hoped to trap someone on the elevator to gloat, but
no such luck.  Oh well, he thought, there will be plenty of people
downstairs.  Blithely, Steve stepped onto the marble floor of the
lobby.  He couldn't hide his pride as a shower of accolades poured
down.
   "The Steven-ator!  Climbing the corporate ladder!"
   "Child prodigy strikes again!"
   "Watch as he leaps the bank in a single bound!"
   Steve waved to the desk-ridden workers as would a parade queen.
When he reached the main entrance, he stopped, turned, and gave a huge
bow before exiting.  The accoladers could not believe their eyes.
   "The egomeister!"
   "Jack ass!"
   "Smirkin' jerk!"
   The three employees turned to each other and laughed at their
mutual disgust.
   Steve, buoyed by the praise, continued his confident stride out to
his car.  Maybe he did have clouds hanging over his head, but maybe
those clouds weren't so important after all.  He was about to step
into his car when-
   "Scratches!"
   Furious, he examined the rest of the car.  Nicks, scratches, dirt
- they were everywhere.  Why hadn't he noticed this before?
   "Definitely need a new car."
   Steve's car was large with many doors and pistons, bought more to
please the bank than him.  It was nice and insulated, but another
Disturbing Thought entered his mind: this wasn't a spiffy banking
car he saw, but rather his old, hated farm truck.  His cheer returned
though at the idea of taking Debby to get his long awaited sports
car.
   He turned the key, the car fumed to life, and Steve shoehorned his
way into the downtown salmon run of rush hour traffic.  His veneer of
cheer had left him in a hypnotic state, raindrops pelting his
windsheild soothing his psyche.  Dreamily, he fixated on them and
their strange swirling colors as they mixed with the street oil.
   HO-O-NK!
   The angry horn came from a car he had almost sideswiped.  Steve
looked over to be greeted with a one finger wave.  He cursed.
   The traffic trudged to a halt and so did Steve's patience.  As
usual, wicked events had conspired against him.  First, Debby can't
get off work early - why did she have to work such crummy hours
anyway - then he almost has a wreck, and now he's stuck.
   "This wouldn't be so bad if spineless Debby hadn't let me down.
The leach."  His smirk formed on his mouth.  "I'll have her barking
like a dog tonight."
   A neon sign marked a bar up ahead in the city landscape.  Steve
had noticed it before but had failed to check it out.
   "I'll just do my own celebrating.  Piss on Debby."

   The bar was a congenial place and Steve liked it.
   "What'll be, bub?" asked a round, friendly barkeep.
   "Celebrating a promotion," replied Steve.  "You're looking at a
new vice-president of the First Conglomerate Bank."
   "Oh, yeah?  That's where I bank."
   Big deal, thought Steve.  The barkeep reached down and drew a
draft.  "There you go.  First one's on the house."
   "Thanks," said Steve, taking a sip.
   "Say, aren't you a little young to be a vice-president?"
   Steve felt suddenly guilty.  He mumbled weakly, "I'm a prodigy."
   He left to find a table to himself, a place where he could be free
from the nagging turmoil within.  But when alone and secure in his
spot, his mind was only flooded with fresh torture.  He seemed
surrounded by a ring of pain and fear.
   Am I never going to be happy?
   The thought popped out of nowhere and drove a daggar through
Steve's heart.  He had done it all and he had it all but...but what
if even that was not enough?  What if all his efforts were in vain
and his misery would only keep growing?
   What's the matter with me? he silently cried.  Why can't I be
happy like everyone else?  I've got everything I wanted and I'm still
fucking miserable!  Jesus!  Why is this happening!   I've got to know
or I'll die!
   And then he proceeded to enter another state.

                     **************************

   Steve woke with a shriek.  He brushed his head to feel where
raindrops had pelted him.  Hunched up against a building, his body
ached from its cramped position.  Disoriented, Steve got up and
brushed his suit.  He found himself stuck in an alley squeezed
between several decrepit buildings.  He didn't recognize the place,
but something was very wrong.
   The sounds!  The sounds were gone!
   Steve rushed out of the alley but found only another one.  He was
trapped by cliffs of building walls and stuck in a stream of endless
alleys - or so it seemed.  Instinctively, he checked his pockets.  No,
he hadn't been robbed.  Then how did he get here - and where was here?
   A pool of rainwater caught his eyes, a thousand colors swirled in
it where no neon glowed.  Steve looked to the sky.  Horror filled him.
Swirls and streams of dancing colors danced overhead, pastel clouds
dropped rain of their hue.  Numbness and fascination overtook him,
leaving him a frozen statue. 
   Eventually, his mind broke free.
   "I'm on acid!  Those bastards put acid in my drink and dropped me
in an alley!  I'll kill them!  How could they do this to me?"
   Too angry to be scared, Steve went in search of an escape.  He
turned corner after corner, but the confines were a ceaseless
labyrinth.  Just buildings and alleys, bricks and litter.  A cold
chill came over him.
   "This is just a bad dream.  I know there's a way out, I just have
to find it."
   The he saw what must to be the answer rounding the corner of a far
building.
   "Joe?  Is that you?"  Steve's co-worker, dressed in the ragged
clothes of a bum, was dragging another man in the ragged clothes of
a bum.  "What are you doing here dressed like that?  And where is
this place?"
   "Got to get rid of these bums!" obsessed Joe.  "They've got to
go!"
   "Hey Joe!" yelled back Steve.  "Where you going with that bum in
your hand?"
   "We have got to get rid of these bums!  They're ruining the
world!"
   "But you're one too!" Steve pointed out.
   Joe and the other bum passed out of sight as they rounded the
corner.  Steve ran after them but was too late.  Strange they
disappeared so quickly, he thought.  Something was wrong...
   He sat on some steps to rest.  He stiffened, hearing a sound down
the alley.  He looked but saw nothing.  Steve could feel his hair
starting to stand on end.  Another sound, this time closer.  Still he
could see nothing.  Then it came.
   A large hound with thunderous bark and ferocious eyes bounded
towards him, a golden goo dripping from its mouth and smeared across
its rabid face.  That face was the last thing Steve remembered as he
took flight deep into the alley maze.  Running with a force he did
not know he had, he finally criss-crossed his way to safety.
   "I can't believe this is happening to me," he heaved,  "What kind
of world have I been thrown into?"
   Scared, bitter, and lost, he decided to seek refuge.
   "I'll just crawl into one of these buildings until this nightmare
is over.  That damn sky is bugging the hell out of me."  Steve found
one of the less rickety buildings and opened the door.
   "AHHHHHHHHHH!"
   Another barking hound lurched toward him.  Steve slammed the door
shut, his heart pounding.
   "NO!  NO!  NO!"  Each No rose in crescendo.  "What kind of fucking
shithole is this!  I want out of here!" stomped a seething Steve.  He
noticed an abandoned crate across the way.  He walked over and
perched himself on top.
   "Okay, fine.  I'll just sit here until everything gets back to
normal and that's that."
   Steve did not have long to pout as he heard a group of voices
coming his way.  Instinctively mistrusting anyone who would live in
this awful place, he ran to hide in a doorway - but was too late.
   He had been spotted by a rogue band of Mutant Midgets, carrying
knives and themselves on stretchers and crutches.  Limping and
hopping, body parts were hard to come by in this lot.  On their
tongues lay insults, ready to hurl at a moment's notice.  Only their
leader was physically complete - he was a mutant in the mind.
   "You there!  Suited Spectacle!" scowled the leader to Steve.
"Why do you have work?"
   Steve straightened up before the impudent imps.  "What kind of
question is that!  Of course I have work.  What do I look like - a
liberal?" answered Steve coolly.  "And for your information, I'm a
vice-president at the largest bank in town," he said as snobbily as
possible.
   "Lies!  All lies!  You have no job!"  The leader's charge set off
a frenzy of contempt by his cohorts.
   "How dare he live!"
   "You are disposable!  Get that through your head!"
   "Parasitic pest!"
   "Misanthropic mendicant!"
   "Waste of space!"
   "The feculant fiend must die!"
   The leader spoke with the smile of Nero.  "You know what we do to
those who have jobs?"
   Steve mounted a protest.  "But you-"
   "Anything we want!" proclaimed the leader.
   The band smiled delicious grins of evil.  Like so many chattering
chipmunks, a sinister stream of "Fuck him"s flowed forth.  Maniacal
ecstacy crackled in the leader.
   "Let us do what is morally bent!  Seize upon he who is
Unproductive!"
   With a huge cheer, they took after Steve; hobbling and hollering,
their blades glistened with delight.
   Steve, already tired from the hound, ran on pure fear.  He couldn't
believe the things that were happening to him.  What foul madness
ruled this place!
   The would-be wounding ones could not keep up.  Satisfied he had
lost them, Steve slowed to a walk.  But he was too afraid to stop.
He walked and walked until he could walk no more, jumping at every
little sound.  As the sun receded behind the eternal rows of
buildings he crawled into a doorway to huddle from the cold and damp
alley.
   Then, through the slits of his eyes, Steve saw at first what
appeared to be an apparition.  Out of the lengthening shadows an
impeccable man in an impeccable tuxedo sauntered with impeccable air.
His hair was groomed, his manner refined, and his person unsoiled -
clearly a man of the Upper Crass.  Steve rejoiced.
   "Thank God!" relieved the exhausted prey.  "Sanity at last!  You
must help me, sir.  You won't believe what has happened to me."
   "You fucking idiot!" rebuked the Tuxedo Man.  "I'm here to rob
you, not listen to some sob story!"
   "Rob me?" said an incredulous Steve.  "But why?  You wear a
tuxedo!"
   The Man raged.  "Because I can!  You deserve nothing but what I
say, and I have come to claim your worth."  The Man sniffed.  "One
can never have enough, you know."
   Steve was beside himself.  Ripped ragged by all that had
transpired, he cared only to strike back.  "Damn you alley assholes!
Who the fuck do you think you are?  What gives you the right to do
anything!"
   "Typically violent reaction," loftily stated the Man.  "But, you
see, I can hurt you; I can control you.  That makes me better than
you."
   "If I weren't so tired from running you wouldn't be able to
control me!"
   "It does not matter why - only that I can."
   "This can't be happening to me!  Why is everyone trying to hurt
me?"
   "Hurt you?" echoed an offended tuxedo.  "I'm not trying to hurt
you.  I'm here to save you - to relieve you of the burden of your
worth."
   "But your saving me is killing me!  I want my worth!"
   "What?  You wish to live?"
   "Of course!"
   The Man was amused.  "As if you can afford to!"  His tone turned
altruistic.  "I shall rid you of such desire so that you may survive."
   "I don't know what you're talking about!"  Steve covered his face
with his hands.  "I don't know what to do!"
   "Shut up and give me all your honey!"
   The strange request brought Steve back to his senses.  "Honey?
Don't you mean-"
   "Just shut up and hand it over!" the Man commanded.
   "But why would you want honey?"
   Tuxedo Man was appalled and rather thrown by the question.  "You're
not serious are you?"
   "Yes, I'm serious!  Why the hell would anyone treasure something
as meaningless as honey?"
   The Man smirked.  "Because I believe in it..."
   Steve's head swirled like the colors in the sky above.  "This is
all so insane.  I'm lost and I can't get out.  Now I got some wacko
who loves honey!"
   Tuxedo Man lectured as a true believer.  "Honey is the God to be
feared over all others - the most precious thing in all the land!
It's the reason why we live!  Without honey, nothing could exist!
It's to be valued over your wife, your children, your father, your
friends - nothing can come between you and it!  No man can live
without honey - it is the ultimate: to be valued even over life
itself!"
   "That," smirked Steve in reply, "is the dumbest damn drivel I ever
heard!"
   The Man threw his wrath upon the apostate.  "Drivel?  Drivel?  A
heretic you be!  Pythian pig!  Who are you to question anything?
Honey rules all and honey is a damn sight more valuable than you!  So
cough yours up!"
   "But I don't have any!"
   "A suited man with no honey?" scoffed the Man.  "Didn't you steal
any honey along with the suit?"
   "I didn't steal this!  It's mine!  Custom made!"
   "You know what I can do to those who have no honey?" posed the Man
as if stating a death sentence.
   "Anything you want?"
   "Indubitably."
   Steve's brain scrambled to find a solution to his predicament.
What he got amazed even himself.  He produced a gem of inarguable
logic, the kind that was only born out of such dire pathos.
Confidently, he shot the arrow sure to slay.
   "What kind of person values honey more than life?  How do you plan
to live like that?" queried Steve.  "Think about it!  How can you put
an inanimate object before your own life?  How can you expect to
survive?"
   "Oh, e-e-easy!" effused the bemused Man, "Because everyone
believes in it.  No one-"  He ground the words into Steve.  "No one
disagrees!"  The towering lordliness of the Man's laughter that
followed was never forgotten by Steve.
   Panicked beyond all reason, but worn to the bone, Steve tried to
crawl to his escape.  The Tuxedo Man watched him from a few feet
away, but in essence was miles away.  He spoke casually.
   "You're lucky I'm lazy or I would follow you to crush you.  But if
you stop, you die.  And you must say "Fizbot"."
   "Say what?"
   "Say Fizbot!"
   "Fizbot!!  Why Fizbot?"
   "I own Fizbot and Fizbot owns me.  Fizbot is my god, my golden
calf.  It gives me all my honey.  So say it!"
   "I hear what you're saying but your words are insane!  Why won't
somebody help me?"
   "Help!" spat the Tuxedo.  "That's all you people ever want!  Try
doing things for yourself!  I have no problems.  Pull yourself
up by your bootstraps!"
   "But I need help!"
   "Shut up!" foamed the Man.  "Shut up!  Shut up!  People like you
ruin it for the rest of us!  Now say "Fizbot" like you're supposed
to!!"
   "Fizbot," said the crawling Steve.
   "Don't stop!  You are to never stop!"
   Steve continued the delibitating 'Fizbots', his spirit cracking as
the Man had hoped.  He spoke between 'Fizbots'.  "How can you do this
to me?  How can you be so sick and cruel?  You just can't do this to
people!"
   "So what if it happens to you," said the haughty Man, "just so long
as it doesn't happen to me."
   Devestated by the relentless disregard for life in the alley,
Steve was reduced to crawling and 'Fizbot'ing his way to survival.
   Amused, with folded arms, Tuxedo Man oversaw Steve's progress.
"Don't worry," smirked the robber to himself, "I got what I wanted."
   The Man strutted away, Steve's dignity firmly in his back pocket.

   The sky shaded black as the kaleidoscope sun set.  The darkness
was a blanket.  Stars came out and the moon rose.  That was close
enough to reality for Steve, who had dozed off in the safest doorway
he could find.  He hadn't bothered to notice the stars twinkled
colors and the moon was purple.  His abandonment was final.

   The beautiful early morning light reached its way into Steve's
face.  At first, Steve rejoiced in the light while he rubbed his eyes.
But as comprehension swooped back in, his face frowned.  He looked to
the sky to see the same dancing swirls as he day before.  He groaned.
   But having survived the night, a growing strength emerged.  He
stood up and stretched his suit back to its perfect fit.  He took
comfort in its straight and finite pinstripes.  He took a deep breath.
   "I must be somewhere," he hoped.  "Surely there are some signs
showing me the way out of here.  I just need to take on a positive
attitude and not get pissed off.  I'll get out of here if it's the
last thing I do.  And if I ever get a hold of the fucker responsible
for putting me here..."  And thus Steve marched into the day,
confident the sheer force of his will could solve any problem.

   "What do you do when you're stuck in a world you can't stand,
can't get out of, and can't change?"
   It had been the eeriest day of Steve's life.  No matter how many
corners he turned, another waited.  He was trapped in an impenetrable
maze of blight.  Concrete and debris his cell; inhumanity his jailer.
   But it was the Sky he had come to know that gave him an eerie
charge.  Magnificent and alive, it was a timeless wonder; a legacy of
an ancient god to caress the senses.  From Day One it had seen it all;
from peaks of achievement to the depths of destruction.  But now it
only served as a bizarre backdrop to a crumbling skyline.  Steve
wondered who dare lay these ruins before such benign benevolence.
   He had searched all day in fruitless agony.  His head ached with
despair, his heart was heavy and his stomach besieged him for food.
Steve staggered to the only shelter in the alley - a doorway.
Tears of despair pained for release.  Steve fought to believe there
was a way out but it only made him numb.  He curled up in the
doorway and sought escape in sleep.  Thoughts of Debby crept into
his head for the first time.  She would be furious with him for
staying out so late.  It was all too much for the spent searcher.

   There was no change the next morning.  The swirling Sky was almost
a familiar friend now.  But Steve was a beaten man.  He sensed the
end was near.  A final fit of rage ran through.
   "What have I done to deserve this?"  Grudgingly, he staggered down
the alley, the pangs in his stomach dulled by his anger.  "You have
no right to leave me here!  Do you hear me, you bastards!  I hate
you, God!  Where are you when I need you!"  Drained, Steve pressed
against the side of a wall.  He could go no further.  The alley had
defeated him.  Rage and defiance erupted in one last cry.
   "Is sanity nowhwere to be found?  Get me out of this world!!"
   His plea went unanswered.  He drooped his way to a doorway and
collapsed.  Stretching out to die, he passed out.

   "Ouch!"
   Steve rubbed the aching spot on his leg.  At his feet lay the rock
that had hit him.  Shaking with fear, not daring to hope, he peeked
around the doorway to a sight he did not believe.  Three young
Scruffians stood mirage-like in the wavy heat with hands on hips,
staring at him.  Steve was dazzled by their clothes, made of a cloth
of mirrors, they reflected the colorful sky.  Long, blonde hair flowed
in the breeze.  A twitch of mockery was in their eyes.  Steve wondered
if they were human.  Dreamily, he heard them speak.
   "Did he break his leg?"
   "Or is he trying to beg?"
   "Oh just lay an egg!"
   The trio seemed to take pleasure in their find.  Each had the
infuriating grin of a Cheshire Cat.  Steve hated those Grins - grins
with no end.  They spoke more to themselves than to him.
   "A man of interior motives!"
   "A man of cookie-cutter proportions!"
   "A man who deforms to his environment!"
   Their demeanor was cheerful but Steve was fearful.
   "Little Bo Peep,"
   "Lost her sheep,"
   "Until she found a creep!"
   Steve was starting to take the remarks personally.  Forgetting his
weakness, he stood up to face the annoying Grins.  He spoke with a
hollow presence.
   "See here, you kids.  Don't you's mess with me!"  Steve was aghast
to find he spoke in the voice of Jimmy Cagne.
   "Omigod!" spoke a Scruffian in the voice of a valley girl, "It's
Jimmy Gagme!"
   "Please don't shoot us!"
   "Careful!  Bogie's just around the corner!"
   A feeling of utter helplessness overcame Steve.  He wailed back at
his taunters.
   "What do you want-"
   "Want?" echoed the first, an undercurrent of viciousness in his
voice.
   "Why should we want a thing?"
   "For what is there to want in the Alley?"
   "Hey," noticed the observant Steve, "You said Alley with a capital
'A'.  What do you mean by that?  Where am I?"
   His only answer was the infernal Grins.  Desperation wormed its
way inside.  Placate them, he thought.
   "Look."  He pulled out his wallet.  "You can have all the money
I've got.  Just get me out of here."  He pitched the wallet over to
them.
   "Little green slips of paper?"
   "With faces of ugly men?"
   "Why there's not even nudity!"
   Steve was adamant.  "You can get lots of good stuff with that!
That's cold, hard cash!"
   The Scruffians looked quizzically at one another.
   "We don't wish to be rash,"
   "But this thing you call cash,"
   "How do we tell it from trash?"
   "Easy, because it's...by the...by the arrangement of the ink on
the paper."
   Steve lost all credibility.  There was no denying the silliness of
his words.  How could he explain money to those who held no concepts?
Begging for mercy was the only bribe he had left.
   "Please, tell me what you want."
   "Want?"
   "Why should we want a thing?"
   "For what is there to want in the Alley?"
   The trembling mound of jello pleaded.  "Please don't hurt me!"
   "Now why would we want to hurt a-"
   "Pig-headed-"
   "Boot-licking-"
   "Self-infested-"
   "Salamander-"
   "Fruit loon-"
   "Like you?"
   The last line they spit in unison.  But something snapped inside
of Steve, his fear vanishing.  He was defiant in the face of sarcasm.
   "I am the backbone of my country.  I do as I'm told.  I make
everything what it is.  Without people like me, none of this would
exist!"
   Used to being stationed in his comfortable environs, Steve forgot
he now referred to an environment of despair.  He cringed before the
onslaught.
   "Well, good for you, frosted corn flake!"
   "He should run for Resident!"
   "Or at least be pickled in a jar!"
   Steve was a broken man.  Weary of the battle, he hung his head and
meekly spoke.  "If you're not going to tell me what you want, then
leave me alone."
   "I want a new bike."
   "I want a peek at the Dope."
   "I want a blue flower."
   "Leave me alone!" screamed Steve.
   "Oh, we can't do that,"
   "You must see the fat,"
   "Of the judge of all the Rats."
   Steve immediately resisted.  "And if I refuse?"
   "Then we stand here all day-" they spoke.
   "And analyze-"
   "And criticize-"
   "And witticize!"
   Without looking, the three turned their back on Steve and exited
the corridor.  Famished and fatigued, Steve hesitated, then followed.
   As they walked, Steve fell into fascination with the trio's
reflective clothing.  Even their shoes were made of the stuff. 
Secretly, he was jealous, thinking what a big hit he would be with
such garments.  Yet even with the envy and the sarcasm they hurled at
him, Steve begrudged them nothing.  Anyone who could survive in this
place had his complete respect.  Yet he knew this judge they were
taking him to would be a foul one, full of the rape of the Alley.
   But wait.  He had done nothing wrong.  He really had done what he
was told.  Surely there had to be a scrap of humanity somewhere.  How
bad could it be?  Steve got up the nerve to ask, though loath to
break the blissful silence.
   "Um, this judge, what kind of guy is he?"
   "His mind is a rental,"
   "That's no longer gentle,"
   "For he's Judge Mental!"

   Through a mysterious - and to Steve - an unfathomable route, the
Scruffs and their captive reached their destination.  By this time,
Steve was reduced to only watching as one foot stepped in front of
the other.  Every fiber of his being held only dread.  When the feet
in front of him stopped, so did he.  Looking up, Steve was astounded
by what he saw.
   "But this is a tennis court!"
   Steve feared his day in court more than ever.  On his left were
bleachers filled with a deadly quiet and attentive crowd.  On the far
side of the court, twelve jurors in black robes sat in somber menace.
On the near side, a bare, metal folding chair and a well-cushioned
recliner were placed in the service courts.  Towering above the court
was the umpire's chair, ominously empty.  A line of unhappy
participants formed at the backcourt and wound its way through the
fence.  Steve grew hysterical when the Scruffians motioned him
towards the line.
   "But you can't judge people on a tennis court!"
   "It's the best we could find,"
   "And why should you mind,"
   "When justice is blind?"
   Steve's head spun.  The urge to run welled up inside, but he knew
there was no escaping his fate.  He wanted to scream, piss, choke
and flee all at the same time.  Instead, he took his place in line.
A woman of flaming red hair standing on end approached him.  "COURT
DEPORTER" read her name tag.
   "Name - if you don't mind."
   Her tone was dry and surly.  Steve, overcome with dismay, could
not be pulled out of his trance.  However, his escorts had no such
problem.
   "Tweedle-Dee-"
   "Tweedle-Dum-"
   "Please don't burn us Flaming One."
   "She meant me!" butted in a distressed Steve, fearing he would
fall into disfavor.  "Steve Stevens," he complied.
   "Your number is 62.  Hope it didn't strain you too much to answer."
Steve wondered if he'd ever hear another civil word again.  He stared
after the woman as she squatted intently by the net ready to make a
call on serve.
   The Scruffs stood and observed all that went on, amused by the
sights.  Their ever present smiles seemed genuine as they reflected
upon the court.
   "In the Land of milk and honey-"
   "When you die-"
   "They think it's funny!"
   Steve had receded into lethargic apathy, only to be fazed by yet
another fantastic sight.
   "Who's that naked man!?"
   Coming around the bleachers and towards the court in a slow and
pompous walk, was a flabby, pink man in a hairless body.  Tattooed
across his chest was "HANG CAIN".  Oblivious to any reaction, he
walked undisturbable in his ceremoniousness.  The reply of the trio
confirmed Steve's worst fears.
   "That is the Judge,"
   "With his bod of fudge,"
   "And soul of sludge."
   Judge Mental prepared himself for court.  "Off with their heads!
Off with their heads!" he practiced over and over.
   Steve put his hands to his head, renting his hair.  "This place is
utter madness!"
   "We find it utter gladness!" retorted the Scruffs.
   In mute horror, Steve watched the nude, bloated body of the Judge
lumber up to the umpire's chair.  A cry came from the Court Deporter.
   "Persecuting Attorney!"
   A beady man with animal eyes crossed through the side gate and
plopped onto the recliner.  He looked hungrily back at the line,
licking his fingers from the meal he just ate.
   "Offending Attorney!"
   This time a man of niggardly clothes and open bottle grudgingly
dragged himself to the metal chair.  He squirmed in futility to find
a comfortable position.
   The Court Deporter rose in solemnity.  "Let he who has not sinned
cast the first stone!"
   Judge Mental, hand held high, threw down his gravel.
   "Disorder on the court!" he ordered.
   All hell broke loose.  The robed jury formed lines and started
square dancing to the fiddling foreman.  The bleacher crowd went
wild, whooping and hollering, posting pictures of kangaroos and
hanging signs such as "INJUSTICE FOR ALL" and "CONSTITUTION
PROSTITUTION".  The Offending Attorney swigged at his bottle while
the Persecutor made rude finger gestures to those in the trying line.
   The Scruffians giggled at the ridiculousness, their mirror
clothing catching the eye of the Judge.
   "You three!" boomed the Judge, pointing to them.  "Leave my
presence, for I do not like your reflections upon me!"
   "It doesn't seem fair,"
   "To have his nose in the air,"
   "With his butt so bare."
   The Court Deporter made a B-line for them, malice in her eyes.
The trio scurried along, stopping by Steve to make one final
observation.
   "So feel your own pain,"
   "Or live life in vain."
   "Such is the fate you have gained!"
   They giggled back into the Alley, leaving Steve to feel even more
isolated and vulnerable than before.  He started shaking
uncontrollably.  The Scruffians were pillars of sanity compared to
what he saw here.
   "Case number one," called the Judge, though no one seemed to
notice.  "Surelock Homes."
   Steve wondered if his ears were playing tricks on him.  Could this
be the same literary detective renowned the world over, here on trial?
The man he saw certainly seemed to fit the role, yet Steve could
scarcely believe it.  The Deporter motioned for Homes to straddle the
net and face the Judge.
   "Persecuting Attorney!  Read the truth as we see it!"
   Salivating, the Persecutor bore directly into Homes.  "The
condemned is accused of Failing To Please A Woman, your Dishonor!"
   Judge Mental glared downward.  "Do you wish to bore the court with
a defense?"
   "Indeed I do," answered Homes icily.  His posture, his coolness,
his steely gaze, gave Steve his first rays of hope since walking into
the Alley.  "But first I would like to say what a complete affront it
is for you to presuppose the worth of my argument!"
   "Why should I listen to anything you say when I already know the
truth!"
   Homes eyed him with disbelief.  "Is that a fact?"
   "The fact is you stand before me!" said an extremely riled judge.
"Or do you wish to deny that too you mindless babboon?"
   "The mindless mind believes might makes right," lectured Homes.
"But I am here to tell you the charges against me are an outrage.  I
do not belong on trial.  The art of deduction is exactly that - an
art.  The distractions of a woman would only hamper the abilities of
my mind, thus destroying my powers.  Do not insult me further with
business that, frankly, is none of your own."
   The Offending Attorney belched in agreement.
   "As if you never made the business of others your own," snarled
the Judge.  "For Failing To Please A Woman, I hereby sentence you to
be a Gigglo in the state of Morgasm."
   Homes was stricken by the ruling but remained unflappable.  Steve
could see the great detective's mind racing, the man's frantic
intellect searching for a way out.  Surelock made one last desperate
move.
   "I wish to appeal to the jury for my verdict."
   "Those of the Fury give your verdict!" obliged the judge.
   The jurors stopped their dancing and returned to the somber menace
Steve had seen upon his first arrival.  The fiddler foreman spoke.
   "We the Fury find ourselves to be:" - each of the twelve spoke in
unison - "Guilty!"
   They then resumed their dancing.
   Homes was completely taken aback, having to physically hold on to
the net to keep his balance.  The jury's music, the cries of the
crowd, the teetering Homes, made for a spectacle of anarchic madness
under the psychedelic Sky.
   "But your Honor-" pleaded Homes.
   "That's Dishonor, you idiot!  Say 'Your Honor' again and I'll hold
you in Content of Court!"
   "But what is a Gigglo, your Dishonor?" Surelock found himself
saying.
   "What do you want from me?  Lessons?"  The Judge showered Homes
with gravel.  "Mind closed!"
   Homes, red-faced and covered with shame, sobbed off the court, much
to the delight of the Deporter.
   Steve was completely unnerved.  He fought off the woosiness, the
hunger, his desire to faint.  There must be some way out of here,
schemed Steve, a way to beat the system - a loophole I can find.
   "Case Number Eight!" boomed the Judge once again.  "Strike Mee!"
   Steve's heart leapt for joy.  That was it!  They were calling
numbers out of order.  They would skip him, let him leave, then he
could run to find the three Scruffs.  They would tell him how to get
out.  They would pity him.  "After all, it's not like I've done
anything illegal."
   In the trying line, a small, overdressed black man stood furiously
in the court, refusing to budge.  Noticing this, the Court Deporter,
whose life was in the court, turned her gaze upon him, and with a
Medusa-like stare, matched his fury and more.  Strike Mee blinked and
the famous film molder moved to the net.
   Unlike the lanky Homes, he had a terrible time straddling the net.
He was beside himself with hostility.
   "I won't stand for this persecution!"  His arms flailed as he
spoke, nearly bringing his prophesy true.  He grabbed the net again.
"You're persecuting me because of the color of my sin!"
   "Of course we are," remarked the Persecutor.  Strike Mee jumped
on the words in a high pitched whine.
   "See?  See?  That man is prejudiced!"
   The Persecutor's nose twitched.  "I wasn't prejudiced till I met
you."
   "You have no right to keep me here!  He admits it for all the
world to see!"  No one paid any mind as Strike continued his assault.
"This is just another example of the white establishment trying to
suffocate my message.  And it's also the reason my films don't get
all the awards they should!"
   At that, the jury stopped dancing, turned towards Strike, and
sprang into earnest song:
   "Tell us more,
   "Tell us more,
   "Tell us what is it like!"
   Strike Mee could not tell if he was being taken seriously or not.
He chose to believe what he wished.  "I will tell you more! You
people have been brainwashed!  The whole world-"
   "Shut your brainwashing mouth!" roared Judge Mental.  The jury
resumed its square dancing.  "And just for the record, I'm pink, not
white!"  He paused to sear into Strike Mee before passing judgement.
"For the crime of Intolerance, I sentence you to one year of the
Intolerable Tolerance!  You shall hear all that is said and make no
reply!  Deporter, seal his mouth!"
   With a roll of tape, the Deporter went around and around his head,
sealing his mouth many times over.  Muffled but still screaming,
Strike Mee, man of a thousand messages, was dragged off the court.
   Steve, wanting to melt into the concrete, chanted his mantra.
"I am not here.  I am not here."  He rocked back and forth without
realizing it.  The omnipotent Judge Mental bellowed once more.
   "Case Number-" he hesitated - "Sixty-two!"
   "Shit!"
   Later, Steve could not recall how he got to the net.  His first,
and most unforgettable memory, was that of the Judge.  His craggy
face was deeply burrowed under the weight of many sins.  Round and
harrowed, his every feature was larger than life, etched from his
own personal hell.  Steve stood riveted.  He completely forgot he
faced a man sitting in the nude.  The Oz-like face spoke.
   "Have you anything to say in your defeat?"
   "Yes, your Dishonor." - Steve hoped to score points by properly
addressing him - "I don't know what I'm charged with, but I'd just
like to say that all my life I've strived to do as I'm told-"
   "Aren't we the good little toy?" scolded the Judge.  The sarcasm
was lost on Steve.  His mind fluxed.
   "Why, yes, your Dishonor" - again the proper address -  "I was
even willing to join the war in Desert Warm if they asked me to-"
   Suddenly, the jurors clapped with outstretched arms and barked as
approving seals.  Each one ogled Steve dead in the eye.  When Steve
turned back to the Judge, he was even more frightened - the Judge was
smiling, making his face even more hideous.  The Judge bellowed a
commandment.
   "You deserve a metal!  Deporter, raise your gun!  Give this man a
metal!"
   Steve whipped around to see a fully loaded revolver aimed dead at
his heart.
   "Oh, no!" he protested, "I don't deserve a metal!  Please, your
Dishonor, I'm really just a big chicken."  To prove it, Steve started
clucking and scratching at the concrete.  The jury resumed its
dancing and the gun was lowered.  But Steve knew all was lost.  Once
again, his precepts had failed him - no one believed as he.
   "You are charged with Being a Leach on Society!" scathed the Judge.
The word "leach" shot through Steve like the bullet he had just missed.
   "I'm not a leach!" insisted Steve, waving peace signs with both
hands.
   "Are too!" stomped the Persecutor.
   "Am not!"
   "Are!"
   "Not!"
   "Witness for the Persecution!" Judge Mental commanded.
   From a cloud in the Sky decended the angel of an old woman.  She
landed on the court and her halo glistened as she spoke.
   "He threw me out of my home!" she said pointing to Steve.
   Steve, to his horror, recognized the woman.  But now it was time
for him to display a fury of his own.  "You don't understand!  It
was all perfectly legal!  It's the law!  She owed us MONEY!"
   Though it was still very noisy, there was silence in the court,
Steve feeling his point had gotten through.  The Judge spoke.
   "I know nothing of your laws or things called money, I know only
of your deeds."  I'm doomed, thought Steve.  The Judge seemed
to take a special giddiness in his judgement.  "Boy!  Are we going
to give your life meaning!"  He then sprang into verse:

      "So because you been a-leachin',
      "I shall start my sinful preachin'!
      "Why do you stay on this earth?
      "When nought you do gives you worth!
      "And as I see no repentence,
      "I shall pass this dandy sentence:"

      "You shall not see the light of day, nor the dark of night,
      "You will see only synthetic Factory light.
      "Though your heart shall break and your back shall bend,
      "You'll see the Factory to the end.
      "So to please my wife and ease my mind,
      "You'll do Life in the Factory Grind!" 

   But it was now in his moment of darkest terror that Steve's soul
was revived: he remembered who he was.  He remembered he was Somebody.
The judgement of others ceased all importance to him.  He just
could not believe his life was meant to be thrown away.
   "You can't do this!  You have no right to do this!  What gives you
the right to determine how my life should be?"
   "By the omnipotence insanely bestowed by all those around me!"
   "Oh, Jesus, God, NO!" Steve cracked.  "You can't do this!  This is
insanity!  No man has the right to judge!  If you can't see that you
can't see anything!  I need help - not judgement!  What is it you're
really trying to do?  How can you say you're fair when you don't even
care?"
   Agony.  Pure, unbearable agony.  Judge Mental had been Questioned.
Caught without an answer the question ricocheted through his mind.  A
flicker of light caught his mind's eye.  Repent!  Admit he hated his
life and be free!  Give in to his dreams and walk away to the New
Life he had always longed for!  But the light went out of the judge's
face.  He passed judgement on the inadvertant chance of redemption
thrown his way by Steve.
   "No one may question my judgement or all our lives will be chaos
and insanity!  I shall never change!  My indecision is final!" he
ruled in a rather hollow voice.
   Steve finally swooned, collapsing under the weight of his sentence.
Judge Mental raised up.
   "The court is now dismissable!"


                      Life in the Factory Grind